Since the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States of America, liberals have been looking for someone or something to blame. In the midst of much handwringing, fake news, and social media’s role in spreading it, has been identified as a culprit, with one underlying premise being that conservatives are more liable to be caught in the net of fake news due to their ideological rather than fact-based media consumption habits.
“Fake stories about Hillary Clinton being a murderer emerged from a long legacy of right-wing media that has long pushed against established norms of journalism to spread fear and distrust,” wrote Vox’s Jason Mittell and Chuck Tryon. “Fake news has always been much more of an issue for conservatives,” argued Salon’s Matthew Sheffield, citing Cold War-era right-wing conspiracy theorizing. The New Republic’s Jeet Heer, meanwhile, wrote that the real problem was not the fake news itself, but the “partisan appetite for validating narratives that caused the spike in popularity for fake news,” specifically the motivated reading of those on the right. And one of the biggest proliferators of fake news told the Washington Post that he specifically targeted Trump voters because he felt they were more gullible. He’s not alone: A BuzzFeed analysis found that 38 percent of posts from three large right-wing politics pages featured “false or misleading information,” compared to 20 percent from three large left-wing pages.
So, yes, conservatives have a serious fake news problem. And the spread of false stories that were damaging to Hillary Clinton and good for Donald Trump likely had a damaging impact on our democratic process. However. In the weeks since Trump won, as petitions and various other attempts to overturn the results of the election have taken over many a Facebook feed, it has become increasingly clear that the right wing does not have a monopoly on believing things that aren’t true.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein has raised at least $6.2 million for a doomed recount effort in three critical Electoral College states. She’s done this by feeding into the theory that the election might have been hacked by Russians or other nefarious actors—a claim for which there is no direct evidence. A report by New York Magazine’s Gabriel Sherman airing the claims of a group of computer scientists and election lawyers who believe the election may have been tampered with spread like wildfire on liberal Facebook last week, prompting further calls for a recount. That group’s circumstantial proof was quickly debunked. And while there are good governance reasons to do a paper recount, even the academic being cited by Stein in her court filings has said he thinks it’s unlikely the election was hacked. The Obama administration—which has more to gain from a Clinton presidency than just about anyone—has said, “we stand behind our election results, which accurately reflect the will of the American people.” But that hasn’t slowed down the movement for a recount.
Liberals were actually primed for this brand of foolishness throughout the primary season by Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who tacitly encouraged his supporters to believe that the primary vote had been “rigged” for Hillary. “It seems that there’s been a lot of voter disenfranchisement and maybe some unsavory numbers,” one Bernie supporter told me on California primary day back in June, echoing the sentiments of many with whom I spoke.
The left, of course, had been willing and able to buy ideological pleasing falsehoods long before Bernie. Just one example: In its right-wing fake news critique, Vox called out “Infowars, the fearmongering media empire of Trump ally Alex Jones, where right-wing conspiracies flourish and leak into public consciousness via affirmations by other right-wing media and, now, the president-elect.” What Vox failed to mention is that Jones made his name by creating the myth that a Republican administration was behind the 9/11 attacks. More on the left than you would hope bought this tripe. According to one 2007 Zogby poll, about 40 percent of liberals said they believed that the government either perpetrated the attack or “let it happen.”
Conservatives don’t even have a monopoly on being fooled by propaganda. As the Washington Post reported last week, one organization has started to catalogue the worst media offenders in disseminating anti-western Russian propaganda that has proliferated from Putin-sponsored media organs like Russia Today. Many of the offenders called out as “useful idiots” for picking up on and spreading this propaganda are alternative media sites with a left-wing bent like Naked Capitalism, Black Agenda Report, Consortium News, Truthdig, and Truth Out. (Some alternative media outlets have pushed back against the claim that some among them are witlessly spreading Russian disinformation.)
And then there was the story of Ivanka Trump saying she would mace her leering father if he weren’t her father, which spread among the left over Thanksgiving weekend. After Trump’s disgusting comments about women, and the persistent leftwing fantasy that Ivanka will one day reveal herself to be better than the rest of her family, it was all too easy for Trump-haters to believe the mace story to be true. Only, it wasn’t.